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Molecular Layers of Data: the Next Frontier of Storage?

January 24, 2013 – In a move that vastly trumps the computing development of Moore’s Law, a group of MIT researchers have found a way to freeze and “layer” data at the molecular level that expands storage density by 1,000 times the current capacity.

Published Wednesday in the online science journal, “Nature,” a team of MIT researchers, led by physics scientist Jagadeesh Moodera outlined a new method of cooling physical disk storage systems at about the freezing point of water and then “arranging” data as flat sheets of carbon atoms attached to zinc atoms in careful layers. While organic storage isn’t entirely new, this method requires more realistic cooling temperatures and cuts the number of a specific magnet used in the process down to one, which the scientists indicated could simplify the method of manufacturing this type of molecular memory. Altogether, the published experiment puts storage capabilities to about 1 million megabytes of data in a square inch, according to an MIT news announcement on the findings.

Authors of the MIT research, which was funded by the Office of Naval Research and by the National Science Foundation, put it this way in a synopsis:

The use of molecular spin state as a quantum of information for storage, sensing and computing has generated considerable interest in the context of next-generation data storage and communication devices, opening avenues for developing multifunctional molecular spintronics. Such ideas have been researched extensively, using single-molecule magnets and molecules with a metal ion or nitrogen vacancy as localized spin-carrying centres for storage and for realizing logic operations. However, the electronic coupling between the spin centres of these molecules is rather weak, which makes construction of quantum memory registers a challenging task. In this regard, delocalized carbon-based radical species with unpaired spin, such as phenalenyl, have shown promise. 

There’s no indication of how far away this type of storage would be from any level of enterprise use, if at all, and researchers indicated that wider adoption would take some reasonable advances in these types of molecules by chemists.

The findings were published in the same edition of "Nature" that also featured research by the European Bioinformatics Institute on their ability to store volumes of data in synthesized DNA. Both instances are certainly a highly technical and advanced take on storage, but also part of a growing body of research and methodology on dealing with the glut of global data.

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